Acoustics remain a bit of a dark art when it comes to church sound. For starters, the physical worship environment tends to be made up of highly reverberant spaces that were fine for Gregorian chants and choirs but work against intelligibility and the high-energy music used in contemporary worship services. Here, Kenric VanWyk, president of acoustical engineering and audio-visual design firm Acoustics By Design, discusses some of the key issues facing HOW technology leaders.
Tech Decisions: What are the biggest acoustical challenges that affect most houses of worship?
Kenric VanWyk: When it comes to acoustics, the biggest challenge that most churches face is gaining an understanding that their acoustical challenges can be solved objectively. Sanctuary acoustics are often misunderstood to be purely subjective, or an artistic preference. When a Technical Director asks the church board for money to address the acoustics, it becomes a tough sale. And this makes sense because at that stage, correcting the acoustics is an intangible, unquantifiable goal. Many churches ask, “If we spend all this money on acoustics, will we even notice a difference?” The answer is a resounding “yes,” and even better: “Yes, in a tangible, quantifiable way.”
There are three main acoustical challenges that most churches face, all of which can be solved objectively with acoustical engineering.
The first challenge, and usually the most obvious, is the reverberation time of the worship space. In other words, how well does the room absorb or reflect sound? Many churches find that their worship space lacks enough absorptive acoustical treatment. Think of the traditionally designed piano/organ sanctuary that has switched over to the contemporary worship style — the building was simply not designed to handle a rock & roll worship band, so the space is overly reflective.